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Waitress serves up slice of life in Locarno

"Waitress" is a bittersweet comedy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved

"Waitress" – the hit United States independent film that tells of life, love and baking pies – has had its European premiere at the Locarno Film Festival.

This content was published on August 10, 2007 - 11:56

But for its producer, coming to Locarno is bittersweet: the director was killed last year before being able to enjoy her work's success.

The film cooked up a storm on Wednesday evening, opening on Locarno's Piazza Grande in the middle of torrential rain - the alternative rain venues were packed.

"Waitress" drew cheers and applause, but there was also a note of sadness. Last November the film's director, Adrienne Shelly, who also acted in independent movies, was found dead in her New York apartment. A teenage construction worker was later charged with her murder.

The film's producer Michael Roiff paid tribute to Shelly, who also appears in a supporting role in the film, at a media conference before "Waitress" was screened.

"We all miss her. It's incredibly bittersweet to be showing Adrienne's film at this amazing Piazza screen and not have her here to see it," said Roiff. "But I know she'd be grinning from ear to ear."

"Waitress" has already had rave reviews in the US where it was a hit at the Sundance independent film festival, and it is even being tipped as an Oscar candidate. Roiff said it was extremely valuable for the film to be shown in Locarno as well.

"As we begin rolling out across Europe and the rest of the world, it's very important to be at a high-profile festival like this. It is very exiting and a huge honour for us," he told swissinfo at the media conference.

"We began our American run in a similar way, starting at Sundance and moving to a couple of festivals there, so it only makes sense to do the same thing here."

The film will now go on to screen in Britain and France.

Pie-making genius

"Waitress" was Shelly's third film. It tells the story of Jenna, a waitress in a small town southern diner. Her great talent is baking pies, which she names after the increasingly tumultuous events in her life.

Jenna, played by Keri Russell, who recently starred in "Mission: Impossible III", is hoping that one of her creations such as the "Kick in the Pants Pie", might help her win a $25,000 dollar (SFr30,000) pie contest. This would finally help her get away from her boorish husband, Earl, played by Jeremy Sisto.

When she discovers that she is pregnant, she immediately bakes an "I Don't Want Earl's Baby" pie. But events soon take a new turn.

A meeting with her new gynaecologist, the awkwardly charming Dr Pomatter, turns into a passionate affair and she gains new confidence through writing letters to her unborn child. The birth proves to be a turning point.

Fun but serious

"It's a nice, light-hearted, fun story about real people which I think is something missing a lot in cinema – to be both commercial, interesting and fun but also grounded in reality," Roiff said.

The bright performances and Technicolor cinematography are the other ingredients to the mix. But the film does not shy away from tougher issues: wife abuse, infidelity and dysfunctional families are also shown.

Roiff said this reflected Shelly's vision that life was not compartmentalised and that there were always two sides to a story.

Shelly, who wrote the film while eight months pregnant with her first daughter, also wanted to show that having a baby was not always easy, an issue she felt was sometimes ignored.

Combining motherhood and a career was also important to her. After her death Shelly's husband Andrew Ostroy set up a foundation in her name to encourage other women filmmakers in a profession that is still largely male-dominated.

"It's to make sure Adrienne's vision and people like Adrienne can have their visions put forward," Roiff said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno

Key facts

The Locarno film festival runs until Saturday.
It is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
More than 20 films are being shown on the Piazza Grande.
Nine US films are being shown overall at Locarno, both independents and blockbusters.

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Adrienne Shelly

Adrienne Shelly started out as an actress in independent US films. She was best known for her roles in the Hal Hartley films "The Unbelievable Truth" and "Trust". She also guest-starred in a number of television series including "Law & Order".

She later turned to directing. "Waitress" was her third feature.

In November 2006 she was found dead in a New York apartment, which she used as an office. Investigators initially thought the 40-year-old had committed suicide. But the evidence did not add up and a teenage construction worker was later charged with her murder.

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